Surgical Assistance: A Veterinary Technician’s Guide
Veterinary technicians are the heroes of the animal care world, and their role in veterinary science is unique. Some liken them to nurses, but they’re much more than that. In veterinary medicine, a veterinary technician works as a nurse, anesthetist, dental hygienist, nutritionist, lab tech, and x-ray technologist.
Among their most important tasks is to assist with minor surgery. Veterinary technicians may prepare instruments, take vital signs, monitor pets, and educate their owners. A veterinary technician to ensures the well-being of their patients throughout the entire surgical process.
Preparing for Surgery
A veterinary technician prepares animals for surgery long before the procedure begins. Surgical procedures carry risk, and owners must be informed of their risks and benefits. Pre-surgical visits allow veterinary technicians to explain pre-procedure instructions face to face. Technicians prepare pet owners for what to expect after surgery, including how to deal with mobility restrictions, healing and pain.
Like humans, animals should be in good health before surgery. Veterinarians perform exams to ensure that pets can tolerate anesthesia and surgical blood loss. Veterinary technicians may check the pet’s vital signs to ensure they are ready.
Assisting with Surgery
On the day of the operation, veterinary technicians prepare the surgical suite and the instruments needed for the procedure. Other equipment such as vaporizers, oxygen tanks, warming pads and emergency equipment is checked for proper function before the pet is put under.
Veterinary technicians may then, under the supervision of a veterinarian, administer anesthesia and other medications. The skin over the incision area is prepared and washed with disinfecting solution to prevent infection. When necessary, the veterinary technician then intubates patients, which allows anesthesia and oxygen to be administered.
Once an animal is positioned on the operating table, the veterinary technician assists with surgery by monitoring vital signs, controlling the flow of oxygen and anesthesia and when needed, providing hands-on assistance.
Anesthesia and Precision
Of all of their roles before and during surgical procedures, giving anesthesia is one of the most exacting. It requires a broad knowledge base about the effects of anesthetics and associated medications as well as potential side effects and how to intervene in the event of a reaction. Dosages based on weight must be carefully calculated and adjusted for medical conditions that could affect how the animal’s body processes it. Understanding the care, safety and use of anesthetic equipment is also critical.
After surgery, veterinarians depend on veterinary technicians to monitor the recovery process. Vet techs observe for signs of pain, track vital signs and keep owners informed of any changes. They may administer IV fluids, place catheters and give injections.
The surgical process wraps up when veterinary technicians educate pet owners about how the procedure went.
A Special Role for Veterinary Technicians
Beyond the love of animals and the technical expertise it takes for veterinary technicians to assist with operations, it also takes an appreciation of people and the willingness to teach pet owners what they need know to care for an animal before and after surgery.
Because pets can’t always make their needs known, a veterinary technician educates them about the surgical process from start to finish. Technicians also make sure they are ready for the aftercare involved. It’s not quite as exciting as operations, but no procedure is complete without it. Owner education is a special role, and a successful outcome depends on it.
Common Veterinary Surgical Procedures
Veterinary technicians assist in some way with nearly every minor surgical procedure. They also perform technical procedures like dental cleanings under anesthesia.
Spay or Neuter Surgery
Spaying or neutering an animal makes it unable to reproduce. Surgery is done under general anesthesia on young, healthy pets. Full recovery occurs within a few days.
Animal welfare experts estimate that millions of companion animals are euthanized in shelters annually. As a result, veterinarians advocate the surgery despite the risks.
Veterinary technicians play a significant role in helping pet owners understand the benefits of surgery. Spaying and neutering decreases bad behavior and types of cancer in pets.
Lacerations are deep cuts that need surgical repair. Fixes can require stitches, staples or glue. It could also require deep tissue, nerves and blood vessel repairs.
Pets often don’t get first aid before being seen by a veterinarian, so cuts can be complicated. Veterinary technician provides assistance and cleans wounds, administers anesthesia, and applies bandages.
Pet owners depend on veterinary technicians for aftercare including pain management, suture care and how to prevent future injuries. At the follow-up appointment, a veterinary technician removes stitches.
Companion animals may get the same types of tumor that affect humans. Some tumors may be removed through surgery. The procedure is always riskier than surgeries done on healthy pets, because tumors may be a sign of cancer.
For veterinary technicians, that means assisting with more pre-surgical diagnostics. A veterinary technical makes sure the animal is well enough for surgery, and monitors during the surgery for changes in condition. Once the tumor is removed, the veterinary technician prepares a sample for biopsy.
Fracture repairs are among the most challenging surgeries veterinarians do and require more veterinary technician assistance. It takes more than two hands to manipulate bones into place and work with the orthopedic tools needed to fix the break. During complicated repairs, veterinary technicians may be asked to scrub in and handle instruments. After the surgery, the veterinary technician takes x-rays and confirms bone position. They may also apply casts and splints as needed.
Dogs with long ears are susceptible to ear infections. When an ear flap obstructs air flow to the ear canal, it traps bacteria. Treatment includes oral and topical antibiotics, but it doesn’t address the physical conditions. In cases like this, an ear canal ablation may be recommended.
This procedure removes the entire ear canal, and while it cures the problem, it does carry risks. Some hearing loss is common, and aftercare requires wearing a plastic head cone. This prevents scratching at the ear and pain management, which veterinary technicians can assist owners with.
Removal of Foreign Bodies
Pets are mischief-makers and veterinarians must often remove foreign items from places where they do not belong.
Some foreign items that are common in pets are:
- Toys in the GI tract
- Porcupine quills in the skin
- Sticks wedged in the upper palate
- Rawhide chews stuck in the esophagus
Veterinary technicians are trained to help in these cases. It is their knowledge of animal behavior that helps owners understand the risks pets encounter.
Eyelid surgery is more than cosmetic for dog breeds with ectropion and entropion eyelid disorders.
Ectropion, an abnormal rolling outward of the lower eyelid, results in exposure of the conjunctiva to air, dust and bacteria, causing dry eye and repeated infections.
Entropion, an inward rolling of the eyelid margin, can cause contact between the eyeball and eyelashes or hair, especially in breeds with short noses like Pugs, and cause irritation, ulceration and eye loss.
These conditions are managed when possible, but surgery may be required. Corrective procedures for these issues are relatively simple, but aftercare is required. Veterinary technicians take a primary teaching role to help pet owners.
Dental Cleanings and Extractions
Veterinary technicians can independently perform dental cleanings on animals. The equipment used is similar and includes manual and ultrasonic scalers.
As part of a cleaning, veterinary technicians assess the condition of an animal’s mouth, look for abnormalities, scrape tartar off and polish teeth with a special paste. In most states, they can perform simple extractions that don’t require sectioning of a damaged tooth.Veterinarians do complicated removals with the veterinary technician’s assistance.
Because pet parents aren’t always familiar with how important dental health is for animals, it falls on the shoulders of the veterinary technician to provide high-quality owner education. Toothaches, for example, are not only painful for animals but they can affect how they eat and cause nutritional deficiencies. When bacteria are trapped under the gums for extended periods, it can also affect their heart and kidneys. Since handling animals is a veterinary technician’s specialty, they are well-equipped to teach about oral hygiene and demonstrate brushing techniques, something most pet owners aren’t comfortable doing without instruction.
Valuable Resources for Pet Owners
Veterinary technicians assist with surgeries of all kinds. They serve as liaisons between pet owners and veterinarians and are valuable resources for anxious pet parents before, during and after surgical procedures. As part nurse, part surgical technician and part owner-support system, it’s a big responsibility, and it takes commitment. However, it’s a lot of fun, always exciting and forever rewarding.
Want to Learn More?
Did learning about how veterinary technicians assist in minor surgery interest you? Ready to start a program to become a veterinary technician? With an associate degree in veterinary technology, you’ll gain the knowledge and skills you need to start an entry-level career as a veterinary technician. Broadview University has been part of the community for more than 40 years, so we’ve developed connections that can help move your career forward. After completing our accredited degree program, you’ll be eligible to sit for the Veterinary Technician National Exam (VTNE). Passing the VTNE allows you to become a Certified Veterinary Technician (CVT), a designation that will give you a competitive advantage when you enter the job market.
Contact us today to learn more about becoming a veterinary technician and working in veterinary technology.
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